Saturday, May 8, 2010

Can I get an amen? (AMEN!)

"As a society, we have yet to break free of the ancient, patriarchal view of women as decorative objects and status symbols for their male counterparts... It's now widely accepted that women can think and work and achieve as much as men, but we're supposed to do these things in addition to being decorative – not instead of... I think we need to ask ourselves why beauty is valued more than any other trait. Why is it considered important for me to love my body? Of course, hating the way you look feels terrible, but the remedy isn't necessarily learning to love your appearance...

Un-retouched photos of models or professionally shot images of 'ordinary' women are exercises in objectification. They invite us to judge the women in the pictures – even if we're encouraged to celebrate or admire the women, it's still a judgment based on how they look. [The images] ask us to compare ourselves to the bodies in the pictures, and again, even if the stated intention is to make us feel better about our bodies, the fact remains that they perpetuate the idea that how women look really, really matters...

The problem is not with idealising thinness, but with presenting any particular body 'look' as a must-attain ideal. Telling women to be curvaceous because men love it is no better than telling women to be skinny because fashion designers make their clothes really small. It's just replacing one idealised image with another. Instead of more examples of what 'beautiful' looks like, I think we need to hear and see more women who cheerfully – and successfully – live their lives without a second's thought about whether or not the majority of surveyed men, or some editorial random writer, thinks they're beautiful."
          -Emily Maguire Your Skirt's Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice

I was looking for a secondhand copy of Feminism & Youth Culture (my library recalled the copy I was halfway through inhaling) and I found a secondhand copy of The Beauty Myth instead. I read the first page and was electrified. I can't wait to finish it and put something coherent together on this blog but for now, ponder the above quote from Emily Maguire's book (and thanks Erica from GWAS for posting it!)
Since starting my reading for this research project, questions surrounding beauty, womanhood and feminism have been circulating through my mind. Why is our value as women so innately tied to our beauty? Why are so many women paralysed by a hatred of their bodies, and why do we persist in normalising this by assuring each other that it's ok to loathe our thighs/hips/short legs/weird hairline? 
I'm not satisfied by the argument that by owning our representation- and our 'sexuality'- we are empowered as women. If we're still trying to be seen as beautiful and desirable, isn't the power in this situation playing into the hands of those who might find us beautiful and desirable? Why aren't we trying to satisfy our perceptions of ourselves instead of relying on others to determine our worth? I need to think this through more. . .


  1. Did you see this interview with Wolf in the SMH last week?

  2. I remember reading the eating disorders chapter of the beauty myth for an essay when I was an undergrad, and loving it so much that I went and read the whole thing and was blown away.

    I re-read it again a little while ago and while I still liked it, I could see some flaws with it as well. I think as is often the case with books like that, it was getting a bit repetitive. These kind of arguments/ideas (like, say The God Delusion, the Tipping Point, No Logo or Bodies) work much better at journal article length because the books basically take the same idea and apply it to lots and lots of different real life situations, and it's just a bit overkill. I also thought that the Beauty Myth felt quite dated and preachy. It seemed to almost be creating an all-powerful bogeyman conspirator who is working to repress women. I just think that's a bit simplistic. Obviously society does have a lot of forces using ideas of beauty that are bad for women, and often they will benefit those in power. But not always. Society is a complex web of relationships, and we are all part of it. There isn't somebody in control of it all - which is why it is so difficult to change.

    Sorry, I do tend to rant! I did actually like the book.